Jesus is Risen From the Dead

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April 21, 2019. We celebrate this Easter Sunday with a simple, six-word phrase: Jesus is risen from the dead. Pastor Stephanie preaches on what these words meant to Mary Magdalene and the disciples, and what they continue to mean for us today.


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Happy Easter once again to all of you. It’s such a glorious day to see each other, to sing, and to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord together. Now, as I was preparing for this message I was remembering how, a few years back, I learned about an interesting website, an online magazine called SMITH. (Just like the name sounds: S-M-I-T-H.) It’s a collection of six word memoirs. I imagine there are some of you out here who are familiar with that, because it’s been taken up by business, education, and other entities, to employ the tactics that they use. It was started as a challenging way to depict the lives of people and their wisdom about life, in only six words. Six words — think about that. With such a tight economy of words, one really has to think about what one wants to communicate in that short space. Challenging though it was, the concept really caught on. The online magazine site eventually had so much material from contributors that it distilled what it considered the most thought-provoking into a few books. The names of them, of course titled with the requisite six words, are: Not Quite What I Was Planning, and the later edition is titled It All Changed In An Instant. Both phrases intended to pique our interests, to find out more.


So I decided to bite. I searched through several examples of these memoirs captured in the six brief words. Here are a few examples. I will start with a very poignant one, but that’s only because it is believed that this six word challenge was given to the famed writer Ernest Hemingway, and his is a very sad, pithy little one. He was challenged to write a short story in six words, and here’s what he came up with: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” One person recovering from a breakup wrote: “I still make coffee for two.” On the same theme comes this, from a person with a gift for expressing double meanings: “Our perfect match burned out quickly.” Then there are other six-word memoirs that make you wonder what kind of response the writer wanted to elicit from us. “I am turning into my mother.” Anybody relate? “Named me ‘Joy,’ Didn’t work out.” How about this one: “Never really finished anything besides cake.” Here’s a light-hearted version from screenwriter Nora Ephron: “Secret of life: marry an Italian.” Lots of other good ethnicities too. This was on the website yesterday, for those who appreciate a good brew (and I know there are many of you present): “Easter Bunny Lager: contains more hops.” And this one made me laugh: “Even I can’t keep my secrets.” The reviewers of the site also got in on the game by trying their hand at this as well. Because why not? I thought the brilliance of the New York Times one expressed the six-word memoir idea the best for me: “The brilliance is in the brevity.” Brevity, having a succinct message, getting to the core truth. There’s something to be said about that, in this world filled with ideas and words barraging us continually.


When it comes to the mystery and beauty of the reason why we are celebrating today, it cannot be said any better than within these six words: Jesus is risen from the dead. These are the words that the breathless women carried from the empty tomb back to the other disciples. These are the words that have been passed on ever since, from person to person, from community to community, spreading to every continent in the last two millennia. It is these six words that have spoken to countless individuals whose lives were near death, broken by pain and suffering, by sin and darkness, and given them new life, hope, and purpose. Because death did not have the final word with Jesus, it does not have the final word with us either.


So this is the message behind the comfort that is available to those with terminal illnesses, and to those who have lost loved ones. Death, with its awfulness and sorrow, does not have the last word. There is reason for hope, and there’s something to hold onto. Because Jesus is risen from the dead.


These six words tell us also that fear does not need to hold us in its grip. They tell us that we’re never alone, even when it feels as though we’ve been abandoned. They let us know that light is shining somewhere, even when it seems that the darkness has won. It says that yes, death is a part of life, but it is not the ultimate end of it. It says that when we are weak, there is strength to carry us through. It says that when we are lost and bewildered, we will be found and restored. All the claims and promises that Jesus made to his followers, that have been passed on to us in the holy scriptures, are gloriously confirmed as true and reliable. All because Jesus is risen from the dead.


These six words tell us that evil will not triumph over good. The six words give us a frame of reference that allows us to keep on working for justice, to pursue what is right and good, to focus on the long game rather than the short one. These are the words that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German martyr who opposed the Nazis and was forced into seclusion, taught his students in the secret seminary that he managed to hold. The meaning of these six words served as a drum beat for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles in seeking civil rights for all. The truth of these words gives courage to religious orders of women in our time, who risk arrest for giving water to migrants languishing in the desert. We can know that oppression and evil will ultimately crumble before the truth that is: Jesus is risen from the dead.


How many lives have been transformed, starting with Mary Magdalene and her companions falling to the ground in utter shock upon hearing these six words? It is the reality of these six words that explain the countless number of people whose hearts have been burning within them because of the presence of God’s spirit, alive and present, to comfort them, to give them hope, to grant them peace. When something mystical, yet so compelling, convinces us that we are not alone, but indeed that the risen Christ is among and with us — that is when we say Jesus is risen from the dead.


I found the words of the men in dazzling white who spoke to the women at the tomb very interesting. They stated plainly, “He is not here. He has risen.” But then they gave the women a very, very important charge. They said: remember. Remember that Jesus told you these things, that he would be crucified and then rise again. Remember. That is a very good charge for us as well. When I’m feeling frustrated that things aren’t going well, I need to pause, take a deep breath, and remember that Jesus is risen from the dead. And that puts the minutiae of life into perspective.


When even bigger and more important things seem to be headed in the wrong direction, you and I can also remember that ultimately, God is bringing all things to a glorious and great conclusion, as we heard in the Isaiah reading. When we sense that we are swimming upstream, remember that the one who holds the keys to life is with us, and is keeping our heads above water. When the daily news makes us wonder if evil is not really getting the upper hand, remember that God is good and God is in charge. When we find ourselves losing hope, remember that God’s love triumphs over even the darkest of days. It was when the women — who had fallen down on their faces with fear and sorrow — heard these words calling them to remember, that they did remember. And they got up and got about what they needed to be doing, because now they could see everything within a new light. And that was to get on with life, a renewed life with purpose, to go and tell the others to remember.


And so it is with us. We are called to remember, and to remind each other to remember that Jesus is risen from the dead. And that, my friends, changes everything. Thanks be to God for our risen Savior. It is to him we sing our praises as we stand to sing the hymn of the day.


*** Keywords ***


2019, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot, Isaiah 65:17-25, Luke 24:1-12